I learned just yesterday that one of my college housemates died last year. I remember “Richard” as an outgoing young anthropology major, with plenty of friends, and interesting stories of life among the Mbuti pygmies. A mutual friend and fellow housemate told me yesterday that he had died.
I Googled his name (with appropriate accompanying words to distinguish him from all the other men with the same name), and found his obituary, and some other things that people had written, before and after his death. There I found hints at what looked like an upper middle class childhood, note duly made of Richard’s Stanford degree, two books that he had written (I’m impressed, as I have written zero books, unless you count the novel in a drawer and the screenplay in a drawer), and stories of his woodsman skills and the meals he cooked for his friends.
I could see, perhaps, a few things lacking: the obituary listed no spouse or lover or children to mourn him, only parents and siblings and nephews and nieces. And one brother had died before him (ten years before him, of a heart attack, I found in another obituary helpfully supplied by Google). An article from a couple of years ago said that his small business was struggling a bit.
But nothing in these bits and pieces, or in my memories, prepared me for the closing paragraph of the warmest blog post of memories.
One summer day last year, Richard hung himself.
We lost one of our first and oldest members, Sandy Dumont, from an infection complicated by gastrointestinal issues and Parkinson’s. She came to us at our second meeting and stayed with us until just a few weeks before we lost her. Lynn and I visited her in the hospital and talked for a couple of hours about the years we had known each other and her plans for recovery. Her daughter Stephanie joined us on that Sunday afternoon only a few weeks ago. She kept us informed about Sandy’s progress as she entered a convalescence home and about the first onset of the infection. Stephanie is, as you might imagine, taking this very hard. Before I heard the news, I felt tired from a morning planting and dibbling at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy Native Seed Farm. The news put more weight on my shoulders and limbs as I made calls and posted notices in various places on the web.
Sandy saw our Monday night support group as a second family. The younger people in the group — and I include myself — listened to her stories about her shock treatments, her struggles with Parkinson’s, and her sojourns in various mental hospitals in the days before lithium let her go home. She had tried living without the meds and she was grateful, at last, for having them. Her admiration for her psychiatrist was immense. It was through him that she found us. We, in turn, took hope from her story and became convinced through her that we could have a life with this illness riding in our skulls.
I don’t know who will fill the chair to my right at Monday meetings. I leaned on Sandy not only to give great and timely feedback to those who needed it — she was no self-appointed pundit or expert on bipolar disorder but spoke only from her own experiences and insights — but to be my backup as Vice President of the chapter. She was a good judge of character who I relied on when deciding who to appoint to the Board, who to trust as a facilitator. There’s a hole that needs filling, one that isn’t just a position on a board of directors but also for a friend and confidant. I am not sure where to go now. She is already missed.